The essential guide to beating exam stress

Taking exams can be stressful.  Thoughts can rush through your head like,  “What if there’s a question I don’t understand”, “What if I forget everything I’ve learned”, and this can, sometimes, hinder your performance which is the very thing you don’t want to happen.

So, with this in mind, here are some simple tips to stop stress stopping you from doing your best.

Take deep breaths – one of the physical effects of stress is short shallow breaths, lack of oxygen to the brain can make concentration harder.  So, check your breathing is slow, even and deep.  If you are not in an exam session spending five minutes concentrating on your breath can be really helpful.

Relax your muscles – another physical effect of stress is holding tension in your muscles, particularly your shoulders so, if find you’re starting to feel overwhelmed,  think about relaxing all your muscles, check your posture is upright and your shoulders are down.

Laugh and smile – stress also makes the muscles in your face tense into a frown – so try beating it by doing the opposite - do something you enjoy and that will bring a smile to your face.  Between exams meet a friend who makes you laugh, do something silly.  Laughter is proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Cry – there is also a theory that crying removes the chemicals that are built up by stress so don’t stop yourself if you feel you need to cry.  Let it out, and then try to laugh. 

Look after yourself – when you are studying and sitting exams remember to look after yourself.  Grabbing snacks on the go instead of eating a proper meal, drinking too much alcohol or having caffeine late at night can all help to lower your mood and make you more susceptible to the negative effects of stress.

Give your mind a break – constantly worrying or going over something in your mind can be very destructive and build up stress.  So between study and exams try to find a way to get your mind to switch off and focus on something completely unrelated and pleasurable. Find an activity that requires your full attention – physical exercise and team sports are a great release for many but so are creative activities such as sewing, cooking or painting as long as you allow yourself to be completely focused on the task in hand.  Computer games are much maligned but for short durations they can be a good way to take your mind off things.  For a more calming experience try listening to your favourite music for half an hour just focusing on the here and now, listening to every note and lyric. 

Deal with your stress head-on – if there’s one particular subject or issue that concerns you, write down all the key points on a piece of paper.  This can help to make the issue less daunting.  If you want to, screw it up and throw it away to signify the end of that worry.

Banish negative thoughts – American psychologist, Joyce Brothers, said, “Success is a state of mind.  If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.”  You’ve studied hard, so believe in yourself.  Instead of worrying that you won't pass, tell yourself you can and will.  Every year thousands of people just like you pass their exams so think positive.  Find a positive quote that can you can use as a mantra if it helps.  

Get your fears into perspective – do not allow yourself to be constantly worried about your assessment.  If you take your exams and you pass – you have wasted all that time worrying about something that did not happen.  If the worst does happen and a unit does not go according to plan, then it will be upsetting, but there will be another opportunity to take it.  Remember what is really important to you.  Your loved ones will not love you any less if you don’t pass every subject first time.

Finally

Remember exams are not there to catch you out.  They are there to help you demonstrate what you have learned.   When you're sat in the exam hall, focus on the present moment put all your attention into the questions, read them carefully before answering, slow down, breathe deeply and do not let your mind wonder.  You can do it.

We hope you found this article helpful, and wish you every success with your assessment.

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